What Really Killed the CD?

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Data source: Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

116 Responses

  1. TuneHunter

    CD and CD playing equipment have been archaic in 1999 so it is perfectly OK for these medium to be DEAD!

    The issue we need to address is MUSIC AS A MERCHANDISE.
    We have all resources in place to create $100B music industry by 2020.
    Minor rearrangement of the game board can deliver it with tunes priced at as low as 25¢ – all we need is to educate Google that music is worth 20x more than ads around it, or force legally Google to SANITY.
    The second might be our only way to progress!

    • FarePlay

      I disagree. The CD player and sound system in my car sound awesome and you’ll find cars built after 1999 with better sound systems every year. CDs blow away compressed music files and the car remains one of the best, semi-undisturbed places to listen to music and not be as distracted by the endless media streaming from our computers.

      No one has responded to my comments about DIY bands, nearly all of whom sell CDs at their shows. If you want to hate the format because of what it represents to you, that’s your business, but only a fool would accelerate the demise of one of the few remaining revenue sources and true fan building tools for indie bands trying to survive in the streaming age.

  2. Kirk

    This is looking at US CD sales, but Spotify wasn’t introduced in the US until 2011.

    Who added the labels to the graph: the RIAA or Digital Music News?

    • Paul Resnikoff

      Correct: 2008 is the global date, not US. That will be updated.

      DMN added the tags w/ the various introduction dates.

      • Paul Lanning

        What about:

        The MAP ruling, which enabled loss-leadering to squash good music stores forever

        Retail margin for CDs (MSRP minus wholesale price) reduced by 6%, causing retailers to reclaim that margin via bullshit p&p programs that bumped most new releases out of the consumer’s view.

        The decline of new music as a major social force

        The fundamental difference between today’s model (complete access) vs. yesterday’s (ownership of some records/tapes/CDs.

        • SherylDiane

          Definitely I get delivery three ways and prob #1 for this generation is YouTube, #2 smartphone, and I especially buy CDs at live shows to support artists – which is still a viable market for indies. I often feel like the sound system/mp3/ear bud experience is so medieval. I mean I heard my first CD (Tracy Chapman with acoustic guitar) on great stereo speakers and it was a revelation of clarity – like she was there playing in the room. But with the experiments with digital in more durable mediums like a kind of glass chip is happening now. I hope to live to see this new medium come to be – all previous storage has had a very short shelf life that’s why we keep moving forward to better archives. One last thought on new music declining as a social force?! You’ve got to be kidding! Maybe you don’t appreciate the direction the kids are going – but they are moving society with their music as never before. Look at Lady Ga Ga or Miley Cyrus having influence on diversity (on stage in their workplace) for instance.

    • Agreed

      Kind of like saying I had a sandwich for lunch yesterday, so that’s why I got sick today

  3. John Matarazzo

    What happened to the wax cylinder sales when 78’s were introduced? What happened to the 45 rpm? What happened to 78’s when vinyl LP’s were introduced?

    Storage and delivery mediums change. The Industry was in many ways built on the tacit understanding. The music storage and delivery mediums changed in 1999. The “Bizz” missed it’s own boat! Incredible.

  4. John Matarazzo

    What happened to the wax cylinder sales when 78’s were introduced? What happened to the 45 rpm? What happened to 78’s when vinyl LP’s were introduced?

    Storage and delivery mediums change. The Industry was in many ways built on that tacit understanding. The music storage and delivery mediums changed in 1999. The “Bizz” missed it’s own boat! Incredible.

    • David

      What happened to 78s when vinyl LPs were introduced? It’s a bit before my time, but I do know there was a long, long period in which 78s were still produced (often on vinyl!), simply because many people only had the equipment to play them, and buying a new gramophone was a big purchase. Likewise there was a long overlap between the LP and the CD, and between the video tape and the DVD. Blu-Ray still hasn’t displaced the DVD, and probably never will.

      I don’t accept that the CD is yet obsolete. For the music (or films, or books) that people care most about, they will always want the sense of possession and permanence. If you buy a CD, it will last a lot longer than Spotify.

      • Paul Resnikoff

        It’s a good point. In-dash CD players still exist in 2014 model year cars, and many older music fans skipped the whole ripping revolution (and streaming as well). So you still have a billion-dollar business, technically, but it’s all moving in the very, very wrong direction.

        • John Matarazzo

          you’re missing the whole point.
          When Edison conceived the idea of storing sound and invented a mechanical system
          to do it a whole industry was created. Creating and STORING sounds on a delivery medium, like
          paper was 4000 years earlier, was controlled by a small group of people who owned the equipment to
          store the data and deliver the data interested buyers.The equpiment required for thsi system was costly and therefore limited to those who had the money to invest.
          The new recording, storage and delivery systems have been, for lack of a better term, liberated from this
          paradigm. The old players had a moment, in the late 90’s early 2000 to retain a substantive control over major parts of the storage delivery system, but they woke up too late.

          • wallow-T

            The corollary to John Matarazzo’s point is that copyright law policing only worked so long as the number of people who owned technology which could infringe was a very small number. In its essentials, copyright worked only as a business regulation, not as a law to govern the public. In older days, the public had as much chance of violating copyright law as they had of violating anti-trust law.

            Now, in the first world, essentially everyone owns copy infringement technology, down to grade-school children.

          • Anonymous

            You basically nailed the reason why copyright is so incredibly broken.

          • Frank

            Well if copyrite is dead, why the need for a compulsory license and why the need for a consent decree that limits the creator from negotiating in a free market. Should not have it both ways. Clearly seems like the general public is protected from abuse in the system by their abilty to just steal it if it’s not fair… This might make for any interesting argument in front of the DOJ consent review board. I mean who are we joking? Do consumers REALLY need protection when they can freely steal anything that they think is not fair?

          • FarePlay

            Weak, you guys decry the law until you think it works for you.

            Why don’t you use free speech while you’re at it.

        • Jack Jones

          In 2015 car models, the CD player is an option and a very expensive option; however, each model is equipped with a USB drive and a AUX option. So long Compact Disc

          • Frank

            And so long radio…. When was the last time you walked in the house and turned on the radio? When the audio system connects to the mobile device or internet, good bye radio in the car.

          • FarePlay

            When’ the last time you contributed to the music you consume or anything for that matter, Frank?

          • FarePlay

            That’s a pretty stupid question. I buy music all the time. What about that statement is so hard for you to understand?

          • dee_m

            I don’t appreciate your stupid assed sarcasm…no reason for it.

          • FarePlay

            Frank, you’ve been pirating music for too long and your world view appears to be limited to those who share your beliefs. Although I agree terrestrial radio will decline, it still represents, by far, the largest audience of legalized media, that would be Pandora, Spotify, et al, not Pirate Bay, whose downloads are torrented and more difficult to quantify.

        • Glen

          The article brings up great facts but I think to say things are going in the wrong direction shows a lack of moving with the unstoppable trend. It’s like the record labels telling the consumer how to consume and when the buyer had options, they jumped ship. To resist will only cause future pain.

        • joe livoti

          Just my 2 cents. I still buy Cds (in my fifties). I like having the liner notes, booklets, and the artists complete package as a concept. I can’t imagine Electric Ladyland, Sergeant Peppers, Dark Side of the Moon, etc, being the same experience on an ipod as mp3 singles. More recently I bought Jason Isbel’s “Southeastern”, after hearing some cuts on NPR. I wanted to hear the whole collection, in order, in its entirely, in the package designed for it. I’m probably just old school, but I remember the excitement of waiting for album releases, getting together with friends, and listening to “Zoso”, “Houses of the Holy”, “Tres Hombres”, “Burn” etc, for the first time. Magic times. It’s sad that kids today won’t have that thrill.

          • Frank

            Yeah but what about when they wake up and figure out that instead of giving you and mp3 or collection of mp3’s called and album, the can give you a relationship with and artist that includes a full screen album cover liner notes video, audio, ability to interact with the artist and fans, participation in demo reviews for the next album etc. you are right the album and cd delivered a richer experience than a download. But someone with a clue could kick that business models ass in the digital realm

          • FarePlay

            Frank, yes you can do that. You can access the cover art, etc. on your computer and I agree for those motivated to do so that is a workable partial solution. But the reality, presently, is that it is a second step few casual listeners will access and most likely a one time occurrence.

            But then again, I couldn’t imagine my life without a car unless I lived in the heart of a major city like New York. If nothing else, this space, DMN, is a fascinating reality of the differences between generations. When I argue for the value of physical product, it really has nothing to do with you. Although I prefer vinyl, I PERSONALLY do not want CDs to disappear. That’s the way I Prefer to interact with artists’ work.

            The young are the future, it has always been that way, but it is your world you’re changing, not mine.

          • Marc

            I concur with this statement. I am only 30. When I was pirating music. I would download the cover art and everything and print it all off so I had a jewel case and everything with it. Moving back to CD’s just really made it easier for me.

      • Kit

        I WAS around just about the time of transition. The LP was introduced in 1948 (I was 2!) — but the transition was quite quick, for the time anyway. by the early to mid-fifties 78s were no longer produced, NOT “a long, long” time in my books – though Hi-Fi equipment did have all 3 options, 33 1/3; 45; AND 78 rpm for MUCH longer – to accommodate old collections of 78’s – In those days the changes were still at a human pace, and every attempt was made to make new media backward compatible!

  5. Chris Hugan

    MP3’s gave the consumer what he really wanted—singles. Singles killed the CD.

    • Patricia Shannon

      That is probably a factor. I remember buying a cassette tape by a well-known artist because I loved a song on it, and I discovered it was the only really good song. But it was near the end of the tape, so I had to pay for and listen to a lot of boring songs to get to the one I wanted.

      • FarePlay

        You guys are pathetic. Can’t you find anything new to say. This one cut $18 rip off has been rattling chatter for 15 years. So you bought one bad record, because you didn’t know any better. That’s like getting a bad meal and trashing all restaurants for the rest of your life.

        • dee_m

          Fareplay, she’s got a point, asshole…you come off like some laid off Label drone.

          • FarePlay

            Laid off no, but I did own an independent label and paid for the recording, cover art and pressing of the record. Why the hostility, what’s you point? Did you have a bad dining experience at Mc Donald’s last night.

          • dee_m

            Ha! Thought so.. let the consumers have their rant, tool…tech, shitty business practices by Labels, etc killed the format & the old business model…

    • smg77

      Exactly. Once it was possible to just get the songs you wanted without having to fork over $18 people woke up to how greedy the labels are.

      • Chris Hugan

        I am with you until the label “greed” statement.

        Labels have shareholders to whom the board members and officers must answer. Maximizing profit is the legitimate goal of any business, and the album (and later CD) was how labels achieved that goal for decades. No different than Comcast requiring a subscription to a bundle of channels vs. a-la-carte.

        Were labels slow to respond to technology? Absolutely. Were they wrong in trying to maintain their established business models at that time? Not sure if I can condemn that–it was a business decision.

        And–remember–nobody forced the artists to sign those contracts. And, the labels often advanced attorney’s fees to the artist’s lawyer so that the artist completely understood the deal. Our entire system of commerce will fall into anarchy if people are permitted to back out of contracts just because they do not like the results.

        Of course, a segment of our population wants just that–economic and social anarchy. That never ends well.

        • James Kilkenny

          The labels could have had even greater profits by selling those “$18” CDs for $4.99. It is my belief that people do in fact prefer the ownership model, given reasonable pricing. Who wouldn’t want liner notes, lyric sheets, color pix of their favorite artists, etc. But to sell CDs made for a few cents per copy at a markup of thousands of percentage points cannot be justified. Giving your customer a great product at a fair price is always good for business, and in the labels’ case, it would have been good for their survival. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it’s probably a duck. $18 CDs looks like greed to me.

          • Ted

            “Greed” is when one hoards more than one actually needs. Labels are no greedier than than the thieves who steal their inventory.

            I play mostly churches and congregations, where the defining principle of this debate is theft, as opposed to convenience or desire. Most of that audience wants to bless the owner of the music (songwriter or the performer of a song) and wouldn’t think of stealing a song.

            But the onslaught of thieves, both legal and illegal, has caused the value of music to shrink, and the real money goes to the distributors of our work (streamers, labels, advertisers, etc).

            I am all for reform to the delivery system, but as usual it seems everyone else gets paid before the people who actual created the music get a few pennies left over, many years down the road.

      • Versus


        It costs a lot to create, promote, and support musical artists, from the recording to the touring process. Furthermore, the rare album that would make a substantial profit for the label would subsidize risks on developing unprofitable artists.

        Of course, the “greed” eventually took precedence, with the consolidation of radio and major label dominance beginning in the early 90s, but those trends to focus on only hit-making artists and drop all the risky more interesting acts were also driven by the various disastrous trends we all know so well: the selling of digital singles instead of albums, piracy, YouTube (redundant, I already said “piracy”), etc. Thus a vicious circle ensued.

        Somehow, though, indie labels have had a resurgence, with quite a bit of excellent music in recent years, but how many of their artists can make a living wage?

  6. Russ Crupnick


    Respectfully, we could put any number of markers on a timeline and claim causality. With that logic the introduction of the traffic light in 1914 caused WWI, Sergeant Pepper led to Nixon’s election, and 9/11 was as responsible for CD declines as Kazaa or BitTorrent. Permit me to toss out an alternative theory- the CD committed suicide. While still wildly popular, the distributors bowed to the pressure of big box retail and made art into a loss leader. After slicing the margins, the retailers complained they made no money on CDs and cut shelf space. The 100 milllion CD buyers had fewer reasons to shop the section, causing an inevitable death spiral that continues today. Is “digital” also responsible- absolutely. Were CDs going to wane eventually- certainly. I’m convinced however that the retail environment was a, if not THE, major accelerant.

    • Stephen Relph

      This is an interesting theory.

      Retailers typically shelf space based on an equation weighting $ sales, unit sales and profit margins. Not having been in the industry during the napster age, I can’t say when retailers truly started asking for discounts. My guess however is that once unit sales started leaving the category (due to external factors like napster and then later itunes), retailers turned to price to get consumers back. When that stopped working and both units & dollars decreased, retailers made the logical decision to drop square footage thus hurting the CD even more.

      All of this said, my humble opinion is the download is actually more vulnerable today than the CD sale (I think Paul may have said that already, so I shouldn’t claim that as my own original thought).

  7. Willis

    While in great decline, the CD is not dead. It, along with vinyl, are perfectly good formats on which to listen to music.

  8. Anonymous

    CD sales declined because they are obsolete. I remember the days of having 30-40 cds in my car, not getting put away correctly when I switched them while driving, what we have now is great (sure we can improve sound quality..)

    Problem is getting paid. Because we have no protection for copy right holders in the US, streaming price point is forced to compete with free illegal downloads.

    plus Youtube rips off artists.

  9. Minneapolis Musician

    How about listening in your car today? Does everyone have a car with a bluetooth connection? Or do a lot of people with older cars pop in a CD?

    • dude

      Most new model cars and car stereos have aux jacks you can use to plug in an ipod or a smartphone. I’d guess that’s the way most people get their tunes nowadays, or they just listen to the radio

      • FarePlay

        Too bad dude, driving a car that is properly set up and maintained over the. Sonora Pass, north of Yosemite, at full throttle with the music kicking is about as good as it gets.

  10. don't forget DMCA

    The chart should include the year the DMCA was passed as a law.

    • FarePlay

      That’s easy. One year before Napster launched. If you think there’s a connection, you’re right.

      So much damage done over the past 15 years with legislation, DMCA Take Down, that was created with the intention of protecting the Internet from “frivolous” and “unfounded” copyright claims. For every dollar infringing sites made from advertising, they destroyed thousands of dollars in legitimate revenue for artists and the music industry.

  11. RoyaltyGuy

    Today’s society pulls people’s attention in so many directions. There was a time when music and radio was everything. Then TV came. Then cable TV with multiple channels. Then the VCR. Then video games and computers. Then the Internet. Then smart phones and apps.
    People don’t listen to music the way they used to. It’s an activity that is becoming a background activity, something we do while doing other things. All these factors contribute to the lack of sales, which is going hand-in-hand with a lack of interest. Why? Perhaps because most pop music today sounds the same; over-compressed tracks with no life to them. And no live tracking on songs, all quantized and programmed.
    Quality still sells.

    • dee_m

      Not true….depends on “demographic”, suit.

      You must be “old”…Steppenwolf fan, eh?

      • FarePlay

        I’d be fascinated to see who you listen to and if you’ve ever bought their recorded music.

        • dee_m

          Dude, I started slamming you because out of all these posters you were the only one coming off like a bitter “Industry/Record” guy….and I was right. Lighten up, FP!(Lol)

        • dee_m

          My music Choices? All over the map..Ever heard of Omar Lye Fook? Incognito? Jamiroquai? Oli Silk? Or let’s flip it back to Hendrix, Mothers Finest, Steely Dan, Rufus, Bootsy, Weather Report, Kravitz, EWF, Soulive, Roger Troutman, Ohio Players, Greyboy Allstars, Tower of Power, Gil scot-Heron, Bob Marley, RATM , Stevie Ray Vaughn, and when I feel like it, Tupac, PE, Brand New Heavies, Dana Dane, D’Angelo, KEM, NWA, X-Clan, Nirvana, Incubus, Stones, Beatles, “some” 311, DMB, SADE, Isleys, Prince, Fred Everything, , Till Bronner, Yellowjackets, Jackson 5, GUY, George Benson..etc..just to name a few…and a lot of other folks you’ve probably never heard of…what about you, FP?


          • FarePlay

            New we’re having a conversation. No matter how me see the business that is our connection. Excellent roster. I’m a fan of blues based rock and old enough to have seen Duane Allman, Bob Marley, Jimi Morrison, Mick Taylor with the Stones and Brian Jones in 66 for that matter, Jim Morrison sober, Jaco with Weather Report and Joni Mitchell, Tim Buckley, Jeff’s father, Beatles at Shea Stadium, Bangladesh, Last Waltz, Lowell George, Rory Gallagher, Led Zeppelin at BostonTea Party, first US show, Fillmore East, 2nd Us Show, U2 first US Tour in SF, Police, Pink Floyd at Fillmore East, Terry Reid, Bruce Cockburn, Crowded House, Traffic, Mott the Hoople, Yes, ELP, Neil Young, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin. Byrds, Manassas, Chili Peppers, Metallica, Hall and Oates, Marvin Gaye, Humble Pie…… Yes, I’ve been on this earth for awhile.

  12. Old Guy

    a. it is obvious that cds are not dead.
    b. it is obvious that vinyl is not dead.
    c. it is obvious that except in niche markets, both these technologies have limited appeal, based largely on demographics. We boomers still crave physical (I, however, do not).

  13. Veteran - US MUSIC INDUSTRY 1970-today

    All these factors contribute to the lack of sales, which is going hand-in-hand with a lack of interest. Why? Perhaps because most pop music today sounds the same; over-compressed tracks with no life to them. And no live tracking on songs, all quanitized and programmed.

    If that’s true, then why are the most purchased tracks those that are “over-compressed” with “no live tracking?”

  14. anon

    Without a street level retail infrastructure using a physical audio product, the actual monetary value of the industry will continue to devalue. The major labels received remuneration for allowing their catalogue artists to be included in the streaming networks such as Spotify. Everyone who is not a major label CEO has been played.

    • FarePlay

      Agreed. The loss of brick and mortar retail visibility is a crushing blow to CDs and without question will accelerate their demise. Unless you believe vinyl will be a hundred million dollar a year business soon, those of us who value physical product will be SOL.

      For me, it will drive my purchases more in the direction of existing catalogue than new artists only available as digital downloads. Don’t get me wrong, I will purchase digital only releases, but less of them and focus more on rebuilding my vinyl collection and purchasing legacy artists.

      It will be interesting to see how bands handle this change in regard to selling recordings at shows. And this may be where the true value of physical product is a no brainer. My core belief is that physical product with photos and liner notes is far more personal than digital files. It creates a deeper connection with the listener and is a valuable fan building tool. Imagine selling a download card as opposed to a CD at shows. You are going to lose sales and the opportunity to personalize the purchase with your signature. Where’s the incentive to buy when you can just go home and download it? And music, like many things, is an impulse buy. Fans don’t buy your music at your show and they may never buy it.

      The highest percentage of music listening time happens in cars, the majority of cars still have CD players and CDs sound far better than radio, phones or iPods, unless you’re downloading uncompressed files. So in a vastly over-crowded musical environment, Cds not only provide the opportunity to stand out when making listening choices while driving, they also expose the listener to more of the artists’ songs. And if you are an artists with multiple good songs on your CD or EP, the connection with your fan increases. Given that most people listen to music through ear buds by themselves, you now have the opportunity to get exposure to the passengers.

      The car may be the most social environment where people share and talk about music in our culture and with fewer young people purchasing cars means more of them are riding together.

      • some guy

        Friend, you got cause and effect mixed up if you think that “loss of brick and mortar visibility” is the reason people aren’t buying CDs.

        • FarePlay

          Wrong, again. It’s a contributing factor and was a result of diminished interest in purchasing CDs.

          My core interest is revenue for indie artists. And the part nobody wants to touch is the fact that DIY artists sell CDs at shows and CDs are their best form of promotion that an artist has at shows. Certainly far more valuable then merch if they have great material.

          • Scott Brockway

            I agree That it was many contributing factors. i am from the industry . I am a president of a Record Label. Connected with a Major. One thing that is overlooked is supply and demand. Technology is a major contributor to the devaluing of the product itself. Software that allows anyone to be a producer, then with social media platforms that allows the average or below average to be on the same playing field as the greatest of greats. Not that i am against new, up and coming artist’s dreams of hitting the big time. There was a process in the old days, This process Brought the world to most Talented People, Good at what they do. This includes all Involved artist, Producer, Marketing and sales,ect. This is an extremely Complex problem we all face. To bring a wave form to the highest quality exact reproduction, only to cut the quality in half just to conserve space. well now that’s just dumb. What that tells me is, The Record labels in the late 80s and the early 90s allowed Big Business to infiltrate and take over. meaning the Labels that knew how the music business worked Handed it over to Billion Dollar Corporations who know nothing about how the business worked.Album/CD Distribution on a global scale using old means such as Record stores is by far the best means of advertisement and marketing.With major label backing, Artist’s could sell anywhere from 50,000 to 10 million units. Now because of no distribution outlet other than individual sales and streaming sites via web,the amount of product that is currently being marketed. Well quite Frankly the market is flooded. High supply and low demand for paid product due to factors such as, Piracy, Competition, and I will add 1 more and that a younger generation, who were born into a luxury, that the older generations never had. We loved the music so we bought it. No matter what the cost if we wanted it, we bought it. Kids today are not the same they were brought up with cellphones, Internet, Piracy software,you name it.. I will go out on a limb here and say that it is the indie artist that still holds the music business together. as they were the ones that had to reinvent how they get their music played and heard. I myself feel that it will be a long time for the absolute demise of the CD. But looking at it from a business standpoint, i have to follow the numbers. Do CDs still sell? Yes! Do they sell enough to cover the cost of Production, Manufacturing, Distribution and to finally pay the artist. well not so much, in the US anyways. So this all leaves a very unsettling future for the music business. I consider myself to be of one of the lucky ones, not only to be in a position That i am able change, adapt and evolve to new technologies. but also to have knowledge of the past. What worked then Still works today, just on a different medium. This was a great thread and i enjoyed reading all the comments.

  15. Barry Smith

    As usual, great insight from Russ Crupnick!.
    Here in the UK the studios and labels all made deals with the supermarkets which led to the decline of the independent stores and HMV and it’s a case “He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon” as the supermarkets devalued cultural products to that of a can of cheap beans and then walk away when the industry cries ‘Foul’! The studios/labels also ‘gave away’ great DVDs/CDs titles as covermounts so that in the consumers’ eyes great creative was less than the cost of a newspaper or magazine.
    Here in the UK there is now a move to pure audio recordings in audio Blu-ray and High-Res Audio which indicates that for some quality still counts.

  16. George Johnson

    Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning killed the CD and the music business, period.

  17. Count Drawko

    I’m happy listening to my awesome CDs! You must be out of your mind: CD’s are man-made objects that were never alive in the first place.

    Most music is terrible: People are jumping up and down to noise-making computer tabloids! No musician in his/her right mind will continue to market music of value for no compensation via free streaming….unless they are rich, bored, or something…..See you in Hell!

  18. Jeff

    Smartphones. We could take CDs everywhere. Not necessarily the MP3s we downloaded to our desktop. Once we could easily aquire and play any music at good quality from a compact mobile device, goodbye CDs.

  19. Mark

    I think beyond the arguments about CD’s vs other formats, one of the worst things for the music industry is the static pricing. All downloads of any song by any artist cost the same? That makes no sense, and has never made sense. In the CD world, there was a small price difference between the best music and the worst music, but often the price differences had little to do with quality. If better songs were priced more, and worse songs priced lower, that would go a long way to improving things.

    • dee_m

      That’s a flawed argument- in a so called Democratic society, who determines what music is “Better”? You?

      Come again, boy..

  20. Brian

    I believe there was a period of time where advancements in technology (the phonograph) and limitations in technology (no internet) allowed the Music Industry to make decent money selling albums, in all their various formats. That time has passed. If the above companies didn’t do what they did, someone else would’ve. It will still be possible to make money, though a combination of streaming, windowed-releases of new music via permanent downloads, changes to copyright law, and stronger efforts to curb piracy. But that will take congressional action. Which means we’re probably all screwed.

  21. Zan

    The real problem is technology as a whole, any one with a computer and some imagination can produce and distribute music online. The sheer volume of artists putting out self produced recordings makes it impossible for the consumer to access more than a sliver of whats out there. Brick and morter stores in the days of vinyl were a destination, a place to browse and it would be impossible for them to carry enough variety to attract to days consumer, youtube and itunes have replaced that. If you hear something you like there is no insentive to drive to ( or log into)a music retailer and buy the disc when the download option is right at your finger tips

    • Versus

      One incentive to buy the CD is that the sound quality is superior to MP3 / AAC etc. I would never buy CDs again if all the music were available to purchase in lossless format (ideally at even higher quality than CDs).

  22. Alex Kontos

    Some older baby boomers still enjoy CDs as well as records (I have a huge collection). The thing I like about albums as opposed to downloading individual songs is sometimes the songs I like listening to the most are not the ones the gatekeepers are pimping on the airwaves. Some songs grow on you. Without an album format I feel like I have lost some control as a consumer of music. Many songs on a record are appreciated by one’s mood. That is why I like mixing up about a half dozen CDs. Set the unit on random and turn her lose. Old habits can die hard…

  23. lf

    So what explains the rise of the “obsolete” vinyl record?

    The Hot New Audio Technology of 2014 Is … Vinyl?”

    “…vinyl records. LP sales were up an amazing 32 percent from 2012, continuing an improbable growth trend that began in the early 1990s and took off around 2007. In fact, as The Oregonian’s David Greenwald points out, this was the sixth straight year in which vinyl long-players have recorded their highest sales mark since the advent of Soundscan in 1991. The absolute numbers are still small: 6 million units, or about 2 percent of all album sales in the United States. ”

    ” the rise of vinyl is probably best understood against the backdrop of the simultaneous decline of the CD. (Wired’s Eliot Van Buskirk predicted this as long as six years ago.) As digital music has migrated from compact discs onto hard drives—and, increasingly, the cloud—collectors interested in a physical copy of their favorite albums no longer see a reason to prefer CDs to LPs. In fact, many prefer the latter, whether for the sound quality, the nostalgic appeal, or simply the beauty of the vinyl record as a design object. CDs and cassettes had their virtues as media, but aesthetics was not among them.”

    “More broadly, the vinyl boom can be seen as yet another manifestation of the societal fetishization of all things “vintage” and analog, which is pretty clearly a response to digitization, corporitization, globalization, and probably some other izations I’m not thinking of right now. Within the music industry, vinyl’s renaissance is also tied to notions of “the album” as a cohesive artistic statement, usually by an actual band. Although 2013’s top vinyl record belonged to Daft Punk, three out of every four LPs sold were rock albums, Billboard observes. And about 65 percent were sold at independent music stores.”


  24. Tom Semioli

    By way of digital media – from Huff Post to YouTube to Hulu, among scores of other online platforms – there is more competition for entertainment dollars than in previous generations. Also note the the American consumer is tapped out financially, so they have less discretionary income.

  25. Eric Kayser

    Many excellent points so far. Two important factors missing from the timeline of the demise of CD sales: the introduction and rise of the CD-R and the introduction of MP3 players.

    Two important questions to ask with regard to the consumption of music:

    Q: What do people want?
    A: Music they like to listen to

    Q: How much do they want to pay for it?
    A: As little as possible

    If you make it expensive and/or difficult to access music in the most convenient manner possible will people break the law to get it their way? Clearly. Especially if there’s little or no chance of getting caught. Is a CD replaceable by a download? To most people the answer is yes. Is a download replaceable by an on-demand stream? Again, to most people the answer is yes.

    Another factor to consider is *who* is buying CDs? I can guarantee you that consumer is aging. Yes, some younger consumers are on the vinyl bandwagon, but there are scant numbers that will ever buy a CD again. That’s never a good formula for the growth (or slowed decline) of a consumer product.

    I would be interested in seeing a similar graph charting the demise of DVD sales. I suspect it would follow a similar (if delayed) trajectory.

    A couple of other related thoughts:

    At least with a CD (or record, etc.) there’s some resale value in it. Not so for a download.

    Also, the plural of medium is media. Not mediums. Just saying.

  26. Derek

    BAD MUSIC kills anything – even plants!!!! Period. Most music being made today ain’t worth the plastic it’s printed on! People still buy CDs, they still buy vinyl LPs and cassettes! It’s all just the packaging. Music is still what it’s all about. Put something worth buying on that damn plastic, and we’ll buy it. You got uber stupid “music industry” honchos like Jimmy Iovine, Scooter Braun, Simon Cowell, Clive Davis, and David Geffen – they THINK they know what music is – maybe at one point in their lives, maybe then, too, they were braver – risking life and limb for something they believe it that was worth staking all their lives and money on. But, now, all they know – all they CARE to know – is MONEY. But they don’t know MUSIC. The magic has left them. And if you can’t make money doing real music, make it doing bung music; go into retail merchandising “music related” stuff like, you know, “Bieber Lush-Lips Lipstick.” Cause that’s all you’ll ever be good at from here on end – and THAT will be the legacy of the “music industry”. Pretty soon, Cover Girl and Max Factor will be selling Music (hey, there’s an idea)! Look at the graph – it started going downhill when the proliferation of all things unmentionable (and calling itself music) came into existence. We’re the customers – we can unseat CEO’s from office, and remove kings from their thrones. And make them paupers just by taking our business somewhere else! Music will always be worth something to us – no matter what the medium it comes in. We can even give it as gifts, make it part of our lives, pass it down to our kids and say, hey listen to MUSIC – and, get this, it’s even MUSICAL. Think about it, the industry once had: Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, James Brown, Etta James, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Carole King, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Chicago, The Eagles … and now, they give us: Justin Bieber, Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, Nikki Minaj, Rhianna, Kanye West, ….. wait, what, who?!?! Still scratching our heads over that one. Gangsta music? Really?!? Gang-sta? As in “sta”? Ever wonder why EMI wanted to keep The Beatles catalog and sell all of rest? Cause real music is like real food – people will buy it even if it comes in a circular tin foil or wrapped in wax paper. All that stupid rap c#@p no one can sing (look ma, I can rhyme on a dime – but who I am is a sham who can’t sing a piss-poor damn), those whining emo-laden pseudo-intellectualized garbage bin fillers (uhhuh, oh, ah, baby got my love – and I got a wink and fitful shove), and hip-hop sop (just repeat every word 8 times before the next word, repeat) make people sick up. Highly stylized muzak is what they are. Having Kings of Leon (even the pigeons pooped on them) or HAIM (what IS with that face – is it that hard to play bass guitar?) in your festivals don’t make it music – sideshow exhibits, yes; music, no. A bunch of toddlers can do better. What are you people smoking? You know 99% of the planet are laughing! And yet you continue. The Grammy’s are beyond insane – there are no actual musicians on there! As an industry, you sure got money … no doubt about it. But the best, THE BEST, you got to give us is Bieber, Minaj, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Gaga, Gomez, and Swift?!? We’re drowning in our tears. Hey this was fun – and that’s just one of me – there’s still the whole planet you gotta listen to. As for the music bloggers – hahahahahhahahahahahahahahaha.

    • Ethan

      Interesting points and I agree with the fact that the artist you listed aren’t my favorites either. But some of the names you listed would be trashed back in the day by people such as yourself too. People thought Elvis was talentless and should have written his own songs, Sinatra was only famous because of his mob connections (and didn’t write his songs either), and that Chicago sold out. Each generation has their own whack artists and their own talented artists. Look what these past few years HAVE managed to bring us: Radiohead, Esperanza Spalding, Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews Band, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and TONS more really talented artists. You’re focusing on Top 40. But look what Top 40 has also brought us in the time period that you mentioned: The Partridge Family, The Osmonds, Paula Abdul, Madonna, Olivia Newton John, George Michael, Debby Boone, Johnny Mathis, Donna Summer, Milli Vanilli, and a lot of the Beatles solo stuff was garbage. It’s all about taste and perspective man. A lot of stuff is prefabricated to make money now, but there’s also a lot of really great music if you know where to look. Don’t be a prisoner of the past and let it blind you. And don’t bash rap as a whole dude. Just because you don’t get it doesn’t mean it’s not real music.

    • FarePlay

      It is meleading to lump all these guys together. Iovine started out working in a studio, the guy understands music and musicians and the business.

      Warner Brothers in the 60s an 70s is where everybody wanted to be. It was run by music guys and had people like Ry Cooder involved in lots of their projects.

    • rad4d

      I’m tired of the bad music argument. Yes, go ahead and compare Frank Sinatra and Pink Floyd to Nikki Minaj and Justin Bieber as if there wasn’t crappy music topping the charts back those days. I guess the whole disco thing just never happened, right?

      There’s plenty of good music out there, and if anything, there’s more experimentation going on due to high quality recording gear being available. Plenty of bad music, but no difference in overall ratio in era.

      None of that changes the argument about the state of the music industry, but it has nothing to do with the quality of music being produced.

  27. TInkjt

    What killed the CD was the music industry itself. When you can purchase blank CD media for less than a nickel a piece and be charged $13 to $15 for a recorded CD…it just didn’t add up. The consumer will only take it for so long.

    • Paul Resnikoff

      That definitely should have been included in the graph. Good one.

  28. Big Moose Da Pro

    All these comment forget that we all had a major media change over rendered audio files into mp3’s which is still a standard for most major media sales sites “What killed the CD”…..Digital portable music devices{ipod mp3 players ect. This fundamental change in how we enjoy and consumes music is what killed CD’s new music is downloadable so who need to by black CD’s

  29. Thomas Van Pickering

    Ahhhhhh…….the glory days of the CD. How did we let it all slip away!

  30. FarePlay

    Paul, did you ever think this post would create a pirate convention?

  31. Ron Baker

    Bad sounding cds…brick walled into the red (Lady Gaga’s “Fame Monster” cd for example) are what kills cds. Don’t have the vinyl of that one, but I do have the vinyl of Coldplay’s “Mylo Xyloto” album and it is much better listening than the cd (even though it still is pushed to the max in volume). Give me the good days when sound quality was quality!
    Price? Well, I just bought the Pink Floyd “Division Bell” set at $125 and I already had the original vinyl album and remastered cd. If the people get quality, they will buy.

    • FarePlay

      I’m with you Ron. I stayed with vinyl for as long as the industry would continue to press it.

  32. Versus

    At least the death of the CD might be good for environment. All that disposable music ending up in landfills. Of course, now it’s the obsoleted iPhone models that are polluting the landfills of the world.

    Anyway, as someone pointed out, correlation is not causation. The graph is just a site of pure speculation. Interesting as that is, one can propose numerous other factors:
    – bad music
    – derivative music (theory that the culture is out of musical ideas, and is just rehashing its own past)
    – overly trendy music (such that even its fans know it has no shelf life, so no need to own it)
    – competition from other diversions (video games, reality TV, Game of Throw-ups, American Idol, suicide)

  33. Leon Rosen

    Its interesting to see that Napster may actually have had a positive effect on CD sales. Obviously digitization is easier for most people, who don’t have to find a place to store large CD collections.

    However, as the main thrust of the problem as I see it is that practically none of the major downloading sites use Wave Files as an option. Its unconscionable to me that I can’t download a high quality, high definition audio file, in the same way that I can download an HD film. Part of the reason for this might be better served by figuring out how many people are buying stereo systems today. CDs not being sold as widely is a matter of a more user friendly delivery system. But people not buying stereos actually reflects more on people not listening to music at all, except on headphones, which will naturally reduce the need for a very high definition sound, which is at a basic level what may be driving mixing and mastering techniques to the extreme current standard levels.

    I received this digital music news post via the ASCAP newsletter. In all honesty their concern for the “artist” is actually concern for the owners of multinational corporations with holdings in entertainment, not composers/singers etc. Record labels shared seven cents on the high average with their major artists. Nirvana made a famously ridiculous $70,000 from “Nevermind” Disc sales. The laws governing a disc as physical own-able media help support this kind of abuse.

    Digital Media could be a stepping stone to a renewed music industry with the artist at the center of the artists income, connecting with her/his fans via social media and live performances. Currently digital media forms have accustomed the public to believe that music should be free, and this is a serious problem. The quality of music diminishes as fewer artists can actually afford to devote the substantial amount of time it takes to become a great artist. The public becomes accustomed to that, and how could the thousands of years-old history of music survive?

  34. Sir John

    A class action lawsuit has to be filed against YouTube and Mobile companies on behalf of all recording artists and professional musicians. Google makes more than enough of money to create a master distribution fund for music creators of about $5 billion per year- distributed equally to music creators based on a view count scale. Mobile Phone companies should also be charged a music fee because anyone and everyone can and does share free music back and forth via the chatting apps that share files. The music Industry has been crushed by free technology. Meanwhile these mobile companies and the likes of Google have become huge. It is a rather simple solution. Charge a blanket music fee that gets the music industry back up to $12Billion+ a year business…and simply give all the music away free. Artists, musicians and record companies will then be paid based on how many times the music is viewed, listened to, downloaded etc.

  35. Realist

    Shitty music and the internet killed the CD.

    The thing is, if a new Beatles or Nirvana appeared on the landscape, sales of such a band would take off again in all formats. The public isn’t as stupid as you think when it comes to music.

    • Alex Kontos

      Realist, I think you nailed it. There is a reason all classic rock formats play mostly music from the late 60s and early 70s. It was great stuff! Except for Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and a handful of others there hasn’t been anything that could be remotely called “classic”. Today’s pop, country and rap/ hip hop will never stand the test of time. I really believe that country and rock music is either being ignored or isn’t even created anymore. And those talented enough to make this type of music are being ignored my millennial hipsters who are now influential in the business..

  36. just another idiot online

    in this entire discussion there has been no mention of the environmental impact of compact disc technology? I’ve wished for years for the day that physical product could be eliminated. How much plastic do we need on this planet anyway? How much non-reusable glass and non-recyclable material so we need to keep heaping in someone else’s backyard?


    Geeeze guys.

    • Alex Kontos

      I don’t know why you couldn’t recycle CDs. We recycle plastic, paper and glass now..

  37. Justin

    Everybody always talks about the format, the social media, the vast great opportunities to have your music heard.
    The biggest problem with the music industry is the integration has gone. It has always been a hard industry.
    Think about how many bands are out there.
    Think about how many songs there are, both good and bad.
    Think about how much slips through the net.
    At one time record companies fed radios, infiltrated shops, created social awareness via magazines, TV, radio, internet.
    The problem with music is not about the industry being dead. The industry will be alive forever.
    The problem you have is competing with quite literally empires that have a pivotal and central gravity effect on the industry.
    People are still buying Beatles records, the name of the famous band doesn’t matter but it’s still all in circulation. Hundreds of years of musical ideas and fast growing, this generations musical ideas, meanwhile you have a sector of the generation fed to us via the TV of to be honest Butlin’s redcoats in the form of X factor and other talent programmes which has turned music into a lottery.
    If you work hard at music and follow as many leads as you can to get your music out there you’re still a zillion miles behind the now huge space station acts who have zillions to throw at advertising but infact don’t need it because people want them.
    Regardless of what format music comes in, the biggest factor you will ever have to overcome and discover is the secret behind mass appeal and that is what record companies used to create. A platform to expose talent massively across the stage of the world.
    Now you have a combination of a multi-million act circus (by that I mean there are a multi-million amount of acts), competing with huge stars of the past who still have a “classic” mass appeal, there is a lot of substandard “new stuff” floating around too, which probably causes the hark back in time and a world that is recovering from a seemingly endless recession which probably means that the more there is to choose from the less “big money” there is to go round and I suspect that that has a lot more to do with a dwindling music/recording industry than the change of format.
    Piracy is the very thing that creates sales because if something is good people will want to know more.
    I used to copy tapes, unfortunately the album artwork and band details don’t copy to tape nor CD for that matter.
    Unfortunately not everyone gets to be big multi-million pound successes but there are still people sustaining a big living from music so it’s not dead.
    The competition is more ferocious than ever and there is a lot of not so good stuff out there too.
    Meanwhile there is so much good music to choose from and so many places to get it and so many trying to get you into their music that there is no main place to acquire music nor is there any main way to create it any more.

  38. Chris Amati

    My problem with streaming is ultimate lack of access control. Suppose they decide to raise the price of a stream by fifty percent? Or suddenly not carry an artist because of one issue or another? If I’ve got the music on vinyl, on cd, on wax cylinder, I can still listen to it. I paid for it- once- and its mine. Not ‘because of increased carrying costs and government regulation the next time you listen to Rubber Soul its will cost you five dollars instead of the three youve been paying’ Unlikely? do you have cable?

  39. Anonymous

    Connect with the username ‘ChoppyRides’ on Facebook using FB on an iPhone anywhere on Earth, watch rides, download RoadApps® for iPhone & thumb music album covers to score music from ITunes for immediate download.

  40. Anonymous

    You guys are so wrong. The CD wasn’t “killed.” It lost relevance. All Art is free and belongs to all of mankind. If your Art sucks it will be pirated and discarded. If your Art has meaning music lovers will pirate it and then go out of their way to support it. Goodbye to corporate fodder and copy-cat schlock. Choices mean better music and better music lovers.

  41. jules

    the Chart seems to blame technology for the loss of sales in music but what it doesn’t talk about is the switch of the music industry in to hit music oriented sales, boy bands and rap all started right when the decline of sales kicked in if you notice. maybe the music industry should start thinking about artist development and less of number one hit single or your career is over.

  42. PoopyButtStains

    To the individual who claimed Compact Disc is an archaic format, a few things:

    1) CD audio is lossless, meaning considerably less compression from the source to your speakers is in play, meaning the listening experience is of a higher quality standard and certain nuances that are lost via lossy files served up by digital music distribution outlets such as iTunes are intact on CDs. This likely will not matter to you if you’re listening to top 40 pop rubbish, but for fans of musicians who compose and perform complex and intricate material (for example, Frank Zappa), quality becomes a necessity. In my eyes, quality should be somewhat of a necessity as it is, but people these days just settle for convenience. They don’t wish to pay an extra $1-2 for a CD, and do not wish to wait for their CD to ship, so they get lazy about it and settle for an inferior product because it’s less hassle – typical in America.
    2) The magic and wonder of a physical product with liner notes. I for one enjoy having a physical album I can hold in my hands, and where I am able to look inside the booklet to see photos of the band during the recording process, read the names of the musicians who performed alongside the band leader (again, not an issue for top 40 drivel or a band that had a constant lineup, but with niche music – if you wish to call it that – such as jazz the musicians backing a given bandleader are almost always different from album to album), in many cases read additional information from the artist (whether this merely be a list of thank yous or an involved back story on the meaning behind the lyrics or recording process of a given album), and most sentimentally – own a copy of the album art. I don’t feel as if I own the very few digital downloads I have bought in any sense. There’s certainly a disconnect when it’s not a physical medium and I’ve known or conversed with many individuals who agree with me.
    3) Your digital downloads aren’t truly forever (well, nothing is truly forever, but they don’t even last a lifetime). You buy everything from some tech conglomerate like Apple, they’re in control at that point, and limit the number of computers you can authorize to play back your downloads. I believe this number is five. I’ve certainly been through at least five computers in my lifetime due to cheap hardware malfunctioning or just wishing to upgrade, and I’m only in my early twenties. So, you advocates of digital downloads who happen to use iTunes either put your faith in the idea that you’ll never go through five computers, or you still use CDs, albeit CD-R/RWs, to do backups. To me, backups are a necessity if going the digital route, unless you don’t truly value your music collection. From my perspective, music being unimportant is a very sacrilegious idea indeed. Adversely, I cannot speak for everyone in this regard, but I’m very careful with my CDs and have never damaged a CD. Even if I have slightly worn a disc, every single one of my 300+ CDs is entirely playable at this moment.

    On a side note, this article is extremely presumptuous in its headline. CD sales have plummeted for sure but there is, and will always be, a market for physical media. Vinyl has made somewhat of a comeback, for one, even within the younger generation. I have a friend who is a couple of years younger than I am and is into somewhat trendy music such as indie pop and extreme metal, and nonetheless prefers a physical album to a digital download. If these physical mediums are still important to enough younger folk, I can assure you that the music industry is very “supply and demand” oriented, and I don’t see physical albums up-and-disappearing any time in the near future. Not everyone is listening to Skrillex or whatever horrible indiscernible noises are popular these days, after all. Those of us who prefer our sounds to be discernible (and performed by actual musicians, and not glorified software manipulators/piss-poor DJs) typically prefer physical albums.

  43. pjebsen

    @PoopyButtStains, re: “3) Your digital downloads aren’t truly forever (well, nothing is truly forever, but they don’t even last a lifetime). You buy everything from some tech conglomerate like Apple, they’re in control at that point, and limit the number of computers you can authorize to play back your downloads. I believe this number is five.”

    This is not true. For many years, iTunes has been selling regular MP3s which are not copy-protected anymore.